Review: How to Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion

We loved the first EP and all the early signs were this was an exciting project that was going to have a real impact. Then came the An Omen EP and things suddenly seemed to stall, matters became frozen in a dull stasis. So as we waited for the first full-length album we weren’t sure if the trendlines were all that promising. And in fact as we delved into the songs for the first, oh, 40 or so listens we still weren’t sure, but damn if there aren’t some lovely subtle, beautifully layered songs packed tightly into this mix.

Trent Reznor’s non-Nine Inch Nails project aims to stake out some new ground from the well-trod path of NIN. Musically it’s more experimental, more consistently electronic and chancy. And with his wife Mariqueen on vocals we get a sweet/sinister whisper instead of the patented Reznor scream which favours the tunes with something markedly unique. The whispery effect doesn’t always work, which plagued the tracks on An Omen (some of which surface here), but more often her lovely tone creates a perfect atmosphere to compliment the soundscapes created by Reznor and collaborator and fellow Oscar winner Atticus Ross.

We’ve often written about the slow burn albums, those that take many listens to warm up and settle into place, but it’s hard t recall an album that required so many listens before it clicked, but once it did there was a eureka moment. There’s some real genius afoot here. Listen to the build of “And the Sky Began to Scream” before the vocal kicks in, layer upon layer crashing into each other before the vocal ropes it all together and wrestles it to the ground and you will be treated to how one can truly, effectively wring emotion from machines. It’s a pattern that repeats itself on many of these tracks yet it never feels tired or repetitive. Each song cobbles together such a unique sound palate (or even a vocal one, like when Mariqueen pulls out her Trent-like holler in the title track or yanks it back to a melodic traditional vocal as on “Too Late, All Gone”) that it’s genuinely exciting listening closely to uncover all the levels they’re working on here.

It’s a terrific, wholly original effort that is both instantly identifiable as a Reznor project and distinctly “something other”. And it works. It just works. It will be curious to see if the recently announced forthcoming NIN album will return to the familiar path or stake out new ground inspired by his work on this project but either way it’s pretty cool seeing him get t use all the weapons in his arsenal.

Watch: How Long

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